“OSS 117, at your service”. It’s a line uttered by Jean Dujardin’s character, a French spy whose real name is Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, before kicking a Nazi colonel out of an airplane in mid-air. This is from the opening sequence of the first film in French director Michel Hazanvicius’ OSS 117 film duology: 2006’s OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and 2009’s OSS 117: Lost in Rio. Now, this fictional spy is the French’s answer to Ian Fleming’s James Bond and actually existed in print long before Ian Fleming’s James Bond appeared on the scene. The first OSS 117 novel appeared four years prior to Fleming’s first Bond novel Dr.No. More than 100 OSS 117 books have been written, both by the original author Jean Bruce, his wife, daughter and her husband. There have been film adaptations too. Now, these were not parodies of the James Bond films. They were serious films meant for serious entertainment just like the ones starring Sean Connery. However, in 2006, Hazanivicius tried something else. He resurrected the OSS 117 character but this time through a series of parodies.
What we have here is someone who resembles James Bond but is actually an idiot and one wonders how he came to be employed by a leading French spy agency in the first place. His knowledge on some of the current events is zero. He is politically incorrect, gets thrown out of foreign embassies for making racist remarks and has complete disregard for others’ feelings. What he is blessed with, however, are good looks and good fighting skills. And of course, he is a ladies’ man, naturally. Just like how The Artist was a homage to the films of the silent era, Hazanivicius’ spy parodies were a homage to not only the James Bond films but also other European spy films. There have been many spy parodies in recent years, from the Austin Powers series to Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English to the recent Melissa McCarthy-starrer Spy. But what sets OSS 117 apart from these films is that Hazanivicius’ has recreated the 60s setting right down to the minutest detail. The costumes, the music (a Dean Martin song appears at one point), cinematography, the art direction, the tongue-in-cheek humor, the over-the-top villains and the cheesy fight scenes all take you back to the 60s and remind you of the guilt-free entertainment that some of the films from that era provided you with.
It’s through these two films that I first came to knew about this terrific French actor called Jean Dujardin. After I had finished watching them, I was thoroughly impressed and predicted that he will one day become a major star, and will be known throughout the world. This prediction came true three years later, when he won Best Actor at the 2012 Academy Award for The Artist. (Come to think of it, his performance as OSS 117 should’ve been given Oscar consideration too, but that’s just me.) He was also hired by Martin Scorsese recently on The Wolf of Wall Street. If you, like me, were disappointed with some of the recent James Bond films starring Daniel Craig (with the exception of the brilliant Casino Royale), then you might want to give these two films a try. But let me remind you once again that these films are a complete different beast and are not what you call “great cinema”. But they are definitely damn good cinema and are way superior to all the other spy parodies out there.